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Enlarged Prostate: A Complex Problem

There are many treatments for enlarged prostates (BPH), but all have side effects and possible complications. Learn what to expect -- and how to decide.

Deciding on Treatment for an Enlarged Prostate continued...

Consider the options carefully with your doctor, says Westney. "We can start with medications, and if there's no improvement, we look at minimally invasive therapy to reduce a portion of the prostate," she tells WebMD. "These procedures are very effective, and side effects are very rare."

If symptoms are really bothersome -- or if you have complications like urine retention -- it may be best to bypass medication. The minimally invasive treatments have benefits over surgery, like quick recovery time; however, you may need a second procedure later on. There is also less risk of serious side effects like long-term incontinence or erection problems -- which can occur rarely with surgery.

Medications for an Enlarged Prostate

Several drugs are FDA-approved to relieve common symptoms of an enlarged prostate. Each works differently, says Westney. They either shrink the enlarged prostate or stop the prostate cell growth, she explains. "For many men, medications are very effective," Westney tells WebMD. "They have a significant change in symptoms, and side effects are very uncommon … so medications are an attractive treatment."

Doctors use the BPH Index to gauge how the patient responds to medication, Westney adds. "We see how symptoms are progressing … if they've stabilized or not."

Alpha blockers: These drugs don't reduce the size of the prostate, but they are very effective at relieving symptoms. They work by relaxing the muscles around the prostate and bladder neck, so urine can flow more easily. These drugs work quickly, so symptoms improve within a day or two. They are most effective for men with normal to moderately enlarged prostate glands.

The drugs: Flomax (tamsulosin), Uroxatral (alfuzosin), Hytrin (terazosin), Cardura (doxazosin), and Rapaflo (silodosin).

Alpha blockers were originally created to treat high blood pressure; dizziness is the most common side effect; other side effects are generally mild and controllable. Possible side effects include headache, stomach irritation, and stuffy nose. These drugs are not for men with significant urine retention and frequent urinary tract infections.

5-Alpha reductase inhibitors: These drugs can partially shrink the prostate by reducing levels of a male hormone -- dihydrotestosterone (DHT) -- which is involved in prostate growth. These drugs take longer to work than alpha blockers, but there is urine flow improvement after three months. These drugs can reduce risk of acute retention (inability to urinate) -- and also reduce the need for prostate surgery. You may need to take them for 6 to 12 months to see if they work.

The drugs: Proscar (finasteride) and Avodart (dutasteride).

Possible side effects include erection problems, decreased sexual desire, and reduced amount of semen. These side effects are generally mild and may go away when you stop taking the drugs -- or after the first year of taking the drugs.

There is also drug combination therapy, which may be effective against symptoms associated with BPH. Some examples of combined drugs include an alpha-blocker and a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor; or an alpha-blocker and an anticholinergic.

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